Commander in chief Obama

This week’s stunning new from Los Angeles Times (www. about American military personnel apparently posing for ‘zombie’ photos with the body parts of dead Afghan insurgents is part of a sad pattern. That being the consistent abuse of power by various branches of the American military and intelligence community under Obama’s watch.

In the summer of 2010, Rolling Stone exposed the weirdly derisive and even disloyal behaviour of then American commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal. That cost McChrystal his job and ended his military career after a brief, unpleasant tete a tete with the President.

In the last number of months, there have been further stories of American military and intelligence malfeasance: urinating on bodies and burning Korans in Afghanistan…Secret Service types allegedly caught with prostitutes in Colombia.

Barack Obama has striven mightily to counter the false perception that his Democrats are soft on foreign policy and America’s military stance. A 30,000 person surge in Afghanistan, a massive expansion of drone attacks on ‘terrorist hideouts’ as well as the killing of Osama bin Laden in allied Pakistan all attest to that. However, what is striking, and perhaps harmful to Obama’s on-going re-election campaign, is this disturbing pattern of misbehavior.  One wonders if it is causing some long nights and misgivings among Obama’s campaign team.


Young Guns Over Libya

So NATO is “saving” Libya.  Doesn’t that seem kinda 19th or even 16th century to anyone?  An enlightened West which knows best will now impose order in a North African country.  Buena suerte.

It’s clear that French President Nicolas Sarkozy sees domestic advantage in projecting French power abroad.  He’s running for re-election next year. Sarkozy’s big threat is to his right. Re-inventing France’s mission civilisatrice could well sell to the voters Nic needs to save his rear-end.

What’s less predictable, and even more discouraging, is the bellicose enthusiasm of British PM David Cameron and America’s inexperienced President Barack Obama.  Obama declared war on a trip to Brazil. At least it appeared he understood some of the domestic political risks, and the fretting abroad that might arise from an overt appearance of American dominance in the mission.  Cameron’s performance in the early days was sadly risible (unless you were under a British bomb). He strutted out under full TV lighting to a designated spot in front of 10 Downing Street to announce in a lame Churchill-like manner that British forces were in combat in the skies over Libya.  Puh-leez!

Of course, Cameron faces serious street protests over his attrition budget.  Perhaps like Sarkozy, he hopes that appearing to save the world will gain him favour at home. Obama just seems confused. As Niall Ferguson has argued, Obama seems to be making foreign policy up as he goes along – in Libya, as in Egypt, and, as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  His only foreign policy certitude, it appears, was to ramp up the war in Afghanistan.  How’s that working out?

As for Canada?  We joined NATO’s bombing party without discussion or debate. Apparently  matters such as going to war are not even worth discussing in Parliament. I hope the doughnuts arrive safely. Given that we are now in an election campaign, that’s the last Canadians will hear of the matter until at least May 2. Why discuss something substantive in election campaign? That would be downright non-Canadian.

So…favoured nations, you’ve made your priorities clear.  At a time when Japan is suffering unspeakably, you’d rather use your war toys in North Africa.  What’s next? Syria anyone? How about Gaza?  Yemen?

After Tucson

American President Barack Obama delivered a beautiful speech earlier this week at the memorial for the victims of the recent Tucson blood bath and the attempt on the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Obama has been lauded, even in unexpected places such as Peggy Noonan’s resolutely neo-liberal column in the Wall Street Journal.

I believe the speech, being a fundamental slice of the conversation Americans are having after the tragedy, is equally notable for its omission.  Obama did not seize the opportunity to talk about laws which could strengthen gun control in the United States. The young man who is suspected of committing the crimes was legally able to obtain a killing gun with a clip designed to fire off up to 30 rounds in rapid sequence. This despite a life history that smacked of mental instability.

President Obama’s speech is part of the discourse of silence in the United States about gun control. Gun control is not a meaningfully permissible part of the conversation, even after such a dire episode. In Washington, a majority of congress members apparently agree there is no need to create stronger gun control legislation. In fact, such legislation as exists was weakened federally in 2004; and as recently as last year, the Supreme Court defeated an effort by the city of Chicago to limit use of guns there. Some reports this week claimed that sales of the clip used in the attack were brisk. In Arizona this weekend, a major gun show, “Crossroads of the West”, went on in Tucson as scheduled.

One might suggest that the aftermath of such a “heinous’ (the adjective used by the suspect’s family) act was no time for Obama to raise the contentious topic of gun control; that the moment called for healing and compassion, for a large gesture aimed at bringing the American ‘family’ together.  In all regards, one might also ask, how could there be a better opportunity to renew the discussion about one of America’s singular failures: the nurturing and maintenance of a murderous gun culture.

The War On Drugs - a very bad idea

As the body count rises in Jamaica (73 civilians according to BBC at the time I update this post); as Barack Obama sends troops to the Mexican border; as NATO troops ‘eradicate’ poppy production in Afghanistan, the undeniable truth slaps one in the face: The War On Drugs Has Failed.

Most experts agree that up to 24,000 Mexicans have been killed since President Felipe Calderon decided to get tough on the drug lords of Chihuahua, Guerrero, Sinaloa and Sonora. Be-headings, attacks on school children, murderous reprisals against honest cops and journalists have become common in places like Acapulco and Ciudad Juarez.

Poppy eradication, supposedly in the hands of the taliban is a cornerstone of NATO’s war in Afghanistan. Yet, it is hard to argue for the success of NATO’s neo-colonial Afghanistan policy, although the mainstream press will do all in its power to find it. As I have argued on other occasions, Barack Obama has been largely given a free ride for a policy that is to the right of his predecessor.

In Jamaica, some ordinary citizens have rallied to the cause of a drug dealer and accused murderer that the United States wants to put on trial. The dealer’s paramilitary is engaged in a firefight with police and army that has raged for days. But it’s not the streets of Manhattan that have been turned into a war zone, it’s the slums of Kingston.

As in Mexico, where ordinary people pay the price of the drug war with their lives, Jamaicans are suffering because of the drug habits of comparatively wealthy Americans and Canadians.

One would think that alcohol prohibition would have taught us something. Drug use cannot be stopped. It can be managed. It’s a pity that the likes of Calderon, Obama and the thoroughly comprised government of Jamaica, will spend countless billions of dollars and watch as the body counts rise, pretending otherwise.


Obama veers to the right

Wow! If the Obama-maniacs were expecting their leader to become a reborn social democrat in wake of his health care reform, they were in for a rude surprise. Mind you the drugs they seem to collectively imbibe apparently inure them to Barack’s foibles.

Let’s review:  First, a surprise visit to Afghanistan where the Imperial Barack pledged His and His nation’s support for the heroic efforts of American women and men in uniform there. In sum, it was extremely good optics and a clever manoeuver to keep Fox News off His case over the `socialistic’ health care reform.

Today, with Bush-like panache, Obama announced that restrictions would be lifted on off-shore drilling for hydrocarbons along significant expanses of the coastlines of the United States. This flies in the face of the received environmental wisdom that Democrats had observed for many years. America is once again open for business; and Americans will damn well drive their cars no matter what price the Arab nations try to put on oil!  Hey Obama-maniacs, how do you spell G-e-o-r-g-e- W. B-u-s–h? Drill baby, drill!!!!!

That leaves us with ObamaSecState Hillary’s odd visit to the northern frontier.  Let’s see… Americans as defenders of indigenous rights?  Sweet… ’nuff said. Freedom of choice and equal access to abortions?  Apparently the Canadian media is not aware that the same rights are clearly circumscribed in His health insurance reform (sic).

As far as Afghanistan goes, in the guise of Hillary, head office has clearly indicated its wish for Canadians to continue serving up the donuts in Kandahar. To his credit Harper immediately said ‘No thanks.’ Please forgive me, but I am cynical/wordly enough to suspect that Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals may yet find a way to the right of Harper to argue that Canadian troops should stand beside Americans in Afghanistan after 2011. But what do I know?

BRAVO Team Obama!

As faithful readers know, I did not imbibe the Barack magic potion in the winter of 2008.  At best, I’ve been sceptically hopeful regarding Obama’s presidency. His Afghanistan, Middle Eastern and immigration policies remain tragically wrong-headed to my mind.

HOWEVER, one must give credit where credit is due.  Yesterday’s vote over Health Reform is a major humanizing step forward in American democracy. Obama and Nancy Pelosi had the courage of their convictions.

The years ahead will be difficult because the very partial analysis of the Congressional Budget Office could not truly account for the costs of expanding health care. Injustice remains: millions of undocumented immigrant workers will continue to keep the economy moving without access to health insurance; women received a slap in the face over access to abortion. Such was the price this time round of hard fought political compromise over meaningful change. May Obama and his crew have the courage and wisdom to improve health care further and to extend their reborn reformist zeal to other pressing matters.


In the land of Paul Revere

Watch Massachusetts!  On Tuesday, a Republican may win the Senate seat up for grabs following the death of Ted Kennedy. Such an outcome will not only be a shock to Barack Obama’s Democratic Party, it might deal a fatal blow to health care ‘reform’.

Obama and the Dems are scrambling to get the troops out after a sudden post New Year’s tilt to Republican Scott Brown. It seems that many citizens even in ‘the state of consciousness’ are alarmed about the byzantine health care dance in Congress and concerned about America’s security under Obama after the near disaster over Detroit on December 25.

A Bad Week for Barry

Scary stuff that xMAS day incident over Detroit Airport.  Equally unsettling for many was the unsteady response of the Obama administration. To begin with, Homeland Security Secretary Jane Napolitano bizarrely seemed to suggest that the incident showed the system worked!  I guess citizens wrestling with would be terrorists on commercial flights in mid-air was part of the plan all along. Then three days after the event, President Obama appeared sans cravate near his Hawaiian holiday getaway very, very calmly expressing his regret. The next day, still without a tie, Obama assumed Commander in Chief mode and angrily denounced the entire bungling homeland security apparatus.  It was a strangely disconnected performance undermined further by a loss of video transmission during its initial live broadcast. Obama seemed to be assigning blame without accepting responsibility.  Uh, Dude, these people work for you, right!?

Obama’s performance raised the hackles of the usual suspects, including former VP/pit bull Dick Cheney. No surpise there.  But some of the folk who’ve been largely admiring were almost as scathing.  Check out Maureen Dowd’s column, “As The Nation’s Pulse Races, Obama Can’t Seem to Find His” in NYT 29.12.09.  Dowd is not exactly of the Fox News tribe, but she’s deeply freaked by “Barry’s” under performance.

As 2009 comes to an end, the Obama honeymoon is most decidedly over. The current flap over national security may even jeopardize passage of his most prized domestic goal – health care reform – if his stewardship of the past week begins to gnaw on the minds of wavering congress members.B

An Open Letter to Obama Supporters

Since January 2008 I have maintained that Barack Obama is nothing more and nothing less than a classic Chicago Democrat: a hard nosed, sophisticated politico with a Hallmark Card gift of the gab. Peel away the prettiness and what’s revealed is a slightly softer (and browner) face on American imperialism. With a total of 50,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, Obama is following in the footsteps of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and both Bushes in his determination that America must set the tone in world affairs…by force of arms when necessary. With historically crippling debt; high levels of unemployment; an unresolved Iraq;  Guantanamo still open; Mexican migrants outrageously victimized at the border; health care hanging precariously in congress (btw it’s hard not to see this foreign ploy as a means to rally right-centre support for health care), Barack Obama has chosen to play the classic American foreign policy card: more war.

Following his election I was stunned to find so many otherwise intelligent people who were blissfully unaware of his plans for Afghanistan. If you believe ratcheting up the war there is good policy, Obama’s your man. If you expected a legitimate alternative to Bush-ism, I hope you will reconsider your hitherto unconditional support for America’s latest risky adventure. If the British and Soviet experience is anything to go on, America has just guaranteed itself  a world of pain even with a planned pull-out of 2011.

Jerusalem takes Obama

Remember the idyllic days of June in Cairo? President Barack Obama laid out his vision for reconciliation with the Muslim world and a sustained Middle Eastern peace at a university in Cairo. Part of that vision called for a freeze to Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. Later this month, Obama is tentatively scheduled to make another major address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the United Nations. At this early stage of Obama’s presidency, such an address can only be a milestone of failure.

To those Obama true believers who assumed flowers would bloom along the Jordan with Obama’s election, as the redoubtable Mr. Soprano once said….fahgeddaboutit! In recent daysBenjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, confirmed his administration’s plans to build hundreds of additional homes in the occupied territories. At the same time, Israeli courts overlook venerable Ottoman, British mandate and Jordanian property law  in invalidating the title of Palestinians owning homes in East Jerusalem. The ‘facts on the ground’ a term widely used by the Israeli right and its North American supporters, are clear: the current Israeli government has no intention to share sovereignty in Jerusalem or to pull back from the West Bank. Most analysts would agree such policies are essential to a peace based on the existence of two viable states.

In the days ahead, following the next regional visit by Obama’s Middle Eastern special envoy former Senator George Mitchell, the mainstream  press may well vaunt Obama’s apparent success in temporarily slowing Israeli settlement plans. It is, after all, high time for the sophisticated Israeli government to throw a crumb Obama’s way. Such success is a chimera. Despite the new president’s soaring rhetoric, despite shuttle diplomacy, the Israeli government  continues to do as it pleases. Only now, in an even more brazen fashion than when its kissing cousin Bush Republicans were in power.

In May, “Bibi” visited Washington. It would appear that Netanyahu took the measure of Barack Obama and thought, ‘A charming young man, but a dweeb.’ Israel feels unchecked in strengthening its garrison state and putting the necessary conditions in place – a stranglehold on Jerusalem plus half a million settlers in the West Bank – to make a contiguous Palestinian entity there a pipe dream. Such efforts, despite the delusions of Obama acolytes, are still bankrolled by American investment and steeled with American military hardware. Netanyahu and his ilk are succeeding in their quest to ensure that the Palestinian Territories are never more than impotent, economically dependent cantons of the Jewish state.

Obama takes Kabul Pt.II

Wow. The straight press (see Page 1 The Globe and Mail 24.08.09) reports that Messiah Obama will be urged by his military commanders to send an additional 20,000 troops to Afghanistan. Listen up kids – that’s on top of the 21,000 grunts who have been sent to Afghanistan since Barack was inaugurated!

Imagine my surprise. I’ve been in journalism for more than 25 years. Never in my career have I witnessed a collective suspension of judgment to rival the euphoric, oceanic embrace the mass media bestowed on Obama in the 2008 Democratic leadership campaign and the subsequent non-contest against John McCain and Ms. Sarah Palin. All the while, Obama declared his intention to expand the war in Afghanistan – a policy TO THE RIGHT OF BUSH!

In 2008-9, I observed grown journalistic adults write laudatory poetry about Obama; another colleague, also a journalist, told me that he habitually drove around Toronto listening to a download of Obama’s inaugural address.

Predictably enough, in practice, Obama’s foreign policies are just more simple-minded American imperialism.  Don’t even get me started about the wall between the USofA and Mexico which Obama has not lifted a finger to arrest. In Afghanistan, Obama – like the British, like the Soviets – believes his will can be imposed on the people of Afghanistan. Democrats must prove they have cojones, so they expand wars. Forget the Camelot myth and look at what JFK actually did in Viet Nam!

I predict tough, tough sledding ahead. The same knee-jerk mainstream media that created Messiah Obama soon might turn on him, declaring Afghanistan a symbol of failed promise. In fact, he’s only being true to the convictions he campaigned on that the same media failed to challenge. Of course, that was because Barack was so cool…hell, supporting him was almost as hip, trendy and cool as being embedded in a Humvee racing towards the ‘liberation’ of Baghdad in 2003!

Obama takes Kabul

The coverage of the new AMERICAN president continues to baffle me. I know folks are fascinated by Michelle’s arms and the Obama family canine. Such “Gainesburgers” (in the words of former Reagan adviser Michael Deaver) routinely divert media and public alike. BUT there is this war thing happening.

Earlier this month, on the cusp of the Christian Easter holiday, Obama sought another $83 billion plus in funding for the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. This on top of the more than $800 billion already dedicated to those conflicts. (source: NYT 09.04.09) Add this sum to the minimum 20,000 additional troops Obama plans to send to Afghanistan in the next year. So far this Democrat in the White House means more war, not less.

I fear this has the makings of a colassal distaster. Just as John Fitzgerald Kennedy blundered his way into Viet Nam, Obama risks ensnaring the United States in a doomed struggle in Afghanistan. This is where I think the Camelot comparison actually takes traction: an inexperienced newcomer adored by a fawning media ramps up foreign misadventures.